With the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles officially underway, the legacy they leave behind looks awfully similar to that of the Bengals.
The San Diego Chargers (soon to be Los Angeles Chargers) have been the talk of the sports world this week due to their announced relocation. With fans in the San Diego area understandably upset, nostalgia about the soon to be lost franchise hasn’t quite kicked in yet.
When fans do finally for look back on the team while it was based in San Diego, they will see a team with a history remarkably similar to that of the Cincinnati Bengals. A history of promise not yet fulfilled. While the Bengals will hopefully never relocate, in many aspects, the Bengals and the Chargers have been mirror images of each other up to this point.
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Decades of Mediocrity
While both franchises have enjoyed success in the past five years, both have also gone through long periods of failure. For the Chargers, the years between 1966 and 1978 were not prosperous. They didn’t finish higher than third in the AFC West and had no playoff appearances in this span. Even worse was the stretch between 1983 and 1991 in which the Chargers finished fifth in the AFC West five times in eight seasons. After finding success in 1992 and 1994, another long string of losing seasons unfolded between 1996 and 2003 including the drafting of a quarterback named Ryan Leaf and a 1-15 season in 2000.
The Bengals experienced an equally dismal stretch between 1991 and 2004 in which they didn’t finish any season with a winning record. To make matters worse, they actually finished sixth in the AFC Central in 2001 below even the recently expanded Cleveland Browns.
Both The Chargers and Bengals are no stranger to decades of losing. In fact, to this day they are trying to shake the reputation and culture of losing. That being said, not all of it has been bad for these teams.
Super Bowl Defeats
After many seasons of losing, both teams eventually turned things around and became playoff contenders.
The Bengals made their first Super Bowl appearance in 1981 and the second in 1988 losing to the San Francisco 49ers both times.
The Chargers would also make it to the Super Bowl in 1994, coincidentally playing against the same team the Bengals played: the 49ers. Just like the Bengals, the Chargers were also defeated.
It’s interesting that the Chargers and Bengals both played against the same team in the Super Bowl and both came up short. it’s also worth noting that both the Bengals and the Chargers played the role of the upstart team challenging one of the most decorated franchises in the NFL.
Regular Season Success
Between 2004 and 2009 the Chargers finished first in the AFC West in five out of six seasons (including a 14-2 season) but did not make it back to the Super Bowl.
In the last eight years, the Bengals made the postseason six times but never won a playoff game. They won the AFC North division title three times in those eight seasons.
Both teams were often formidable in the regular season but could never break through when it really counted. They were expected to take the reins in the AFC and challenge for a Super Bowl title during their respective primes, but both teams fizzled when it came to playing in the postseason.
Close Losses in 2016
Although they ended 2016 with losing records, the Bengals and Chargers probably had the most chances to turn things around. The Chargers took a lead into the fourth quarter in each of their first five games. They came away with one win. In addition, out of their eleven losses, nine of them were by eight points or less.
The Bengals experienced similar heartache: losing six of nine games by one score. The Bengals were able to hold their own against teams in their division like the Steelers and Ravens. They even held a healthy lead against Pittsburgh, but much like the Chargers, they couldn’t close out the victory.
When looking at the 2016 season as a whole, the Bengals and Chargers came into the season with high expectations. Both were a few plays/players away from being legitimate contenders. Up until the move to Los Angeles, it’s easy to see how their trajectory seemed to be on a similar path.
While both teams had disappointing 2016 seasons and look to rebound in 2017, they are now in different stages. The Chargers parted ways with head coach Mike McCoy and hired Bills interim head coach Anthony Lynn. Philip Rivers is starting to get older. Ultimately, the Chargers are in for some rebuilding years in the near future.
The Bengals, on the other hand, hope that the 2016 season was just an anomaly as opposed to a trend. They look to return Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green from injury, shore up the offensive line and return the defense to its former glory. Marvin Lewis is set to return in 2017 and Andy Dalton is still the unquestioned starter for the near future.
What this comparison really shows is how 2017 is truly a make or break year for the Bengals. If they are able to win a playoff game, they may finally break away from their history of losing. If they don’t, they will once again be in the same place as the Chargers…looking for a coach and rebuilding.